Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
In 6th century Persia, life isn't easy for your average street urchin. And if that's your lot, you generally don't want to draw much attention to yourself. But when a Persian captain of the guard starts beating a boy for spooking his horse, the scruffy Dastan can't just stay in the shadows and watch. He leaps to the other boy's defense … and is soon nabbed to be beaten himself.
Luckily, King Sharaman happens to be passing by at that moment and sees a special quality in young Dastan's actions. Not only does he order him spared, but in true One Thousand and One Nights fashion he adopts the orphan on the spot.
Jump ahead 10 years or so and the now Prince Dastan has grown into a handsome twentysomething whose love for his adopted royal family is only superseded by his bravery. So he's the first to leap acrobatically into action when it's reported that the neighboring holy city of Alamut is selling weapons to Persia's enemies. But when Dastan and his brothers take the city they find no weapons. Instead they encounter the beautiful Princess Tamina, indignant that Persian forces have overtaken her peaceful home.
It's at this point that King Sharaman makes another timely appearance to calm the waters. But this time he's mysteriously murdered—and the crime is pinned on Dastan.
In 6th century Persia, life isn't easy for your average prince accused of killing his pops. And if that's your lot, you generally don't want to draw much attention to yourself. But Dastan won't just disappear into the shadows this time, either. That's good, because there's more at stake here than just his good name—like the fate of the entire world.
Dastan and Tamina are both utterly heroic characters. They don't necessarily get along with each other at first—gradually playing out a Hollywood-typical "I hate you/I love you" romance. But both are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to save others. In fact, they both do sacrifice their lives to save others. (While a magical, time-rewinding dagger keeps fate at bay.)
Dastan's adopted father and his brothers are a loving and loyal family. All four want to be wise and lawful. When the king learns that Dastan bravely breached a city's walls on his own in order to lessen war casualties, he praises his son for being a brave and "good man." But he goes on to tell Dastan, "A great man would have found a way to stop what should never have happened."
In spite of dastardly and deadly plots swirling about them, Dastan and his brothers challenge each other to remember their father's words and make the right decisions. During a dire moment, Dastan says, "I must act on what I know is right, no matter the consequences."
I've already mentioned the magical dagger. And it's indicative of the nature of the film's fanciful version of a long-forgotten Persian past. Much like Disney's Aladdin, this is a world where destiny and good and evil magic are all just part of life—to be feared and embraced by just about everyone.
A set of benevolent gods are presented by Tamina as the "good" side of that spiritual equation. We see her praying to them in a temple. She later tells a story of these gods sparing mankind because of the actions of a little child. She purports that the gods gave man the time-altering dagger that uses magic sand to reverse time by one minute. We later see a gigantic hourglass beneath the city filled with that sand. And it's said that tampering with such a relic would bring about mankind's destruction.
The "bad" side of magic is associated with the "dark arts" of a group of assassins who use a trance-inducing meditation to track their victims. These killers use their powers to slip invisibly in and out of shadows and sandstorms.
The king is a man of prayer. Unfortunately he and others pray to multiple gods. Tamina speaks of the Sands of Time, saying, "This is a matter for the gods, not man." Dastan retorts with, "Your gods, not mine." There are a number of Hindu-like statues of gods in the temple. And we catch a glimpse of a multi-armed statue resembling the goddess Kali.
Also along the lines of Aladdin, Princess Tamina and other women (some of them in a harem and some of them slaves) wear a variety of outfits that reveal cleavage and midriff. The camera zooms in on Tamina's cleavage at one point, ostensibly to focus on a vial suspended from a necklace. Dastan is looking as well, and she coyly asks him, "Do you see what you're looking for?" Dastan returns the favor, if you will, by remarking that Tamina will need to search him thoroughly if she hopes to get the dagger back.
Dastan goes shirtless during a wrestling match. Statutes represent a busty female. Sheikh Amar makes a sly anatomical reference ("big swords"). And he mentions spreading a rumor like a venereal "disease in a harem."
There's quite a bit of bloodletting and killing on display in this action pic as swords hack and knives plunge. A man has his throat viciously slit. (We see the flesh separate and the blood pour.) Others are impaled by arrows, pikes and swords. Folks fall from great heights.
The dark assassins are trained in their own special brand of murder. And they all make use of it, killing brutally by throwing iron spikes, using long whip-like blades and "managing" the attack of oversized vipers. Tamina takes one of those vipers at one point and slashes the snake's fangs down a man's face.
Besides that up-close-and-personal slashing and stabbing, there are also head thumps and body slams that always seem to happen when folks fight in big action flicks. For example, when Dastan pulls group of soldiers off a rooftop, they're shown piled up on the ground, unconscious. A small boy is slapped repeatedly by an adult.
Crude or Profane Language
Sheikh Amar speaks of dust storms being as common as "camel turds."
Drug and Alcohol Content
King Sharaman drinks a cup of wine. His brother Nazim tells Dastan that the only real job of a king's brother is to "make sure his glass stays full."
Other Negative Elements
Lying, scheming and murderous plotting get a fair amount of screen time.
Back when Walt Disney and prolific film producer Jerry Bruckheimer first announced that they were going to create a movie based on a Disneyland theme park ride, pundits gave the news a smirking dismissal. The result was a string of Pirates of the Caribbean summer blockbusters that generated gazillions of dollars and made Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow the prancing and arrghing scallywag of the decade.
So it should come as no surprise that Bruckheimer and Disney now hope to repeat the movie magic … with a video game this time.
Just like taking a theme park ride and making it into a big-budget movie, taking video games and turning them into grand cinema is an uphill climb, make no mistake about it. Dozens of attempts have mostly ended up in the bargain bin at your local thrift store. But games—and movies—have come a long way in the last 10 or 20 years. So I was curious to see what the result of this attempt might be.
The answer came early on. In one of the first scenes, the parkour-practicing prince crests a steep city wall and the camera quickly pinpoints all the beams, crevices, ropes and ledges he'll have to leap, swing and cartwheel to in order to raise the main gate. It was so much like an actual Prince of Persia game that I had to stop myself from reaching for a controller.
The Prince of Persia games first appeared in 1989 sporting an acrobatic, gravity-defying protagonist who is actually quite well-suited for the movies. He trod an Aladdin-like world full of magic and blowing sand, sprinkled generously with formulaic whiz-bang. How could Bruckheimer and Disney pass him by?
Well, they couldn't, as you now know. And it apparently didn't matter much to them that half the Persia games so far are rated M. Because a lot of the game violence that pushed them into the "mature" category also makes its way onto the movie screen, Persia pushes the PG-13 rating pretty hard with heavy doses of sword-swinging, neck-slashing, bloody knife-to-the-chest violence. That and the franchise's polytheistic, sometimes dark, spirituality should make family audiences think twice before walking out into this hot desert sun.
The prince's heroism doesn't get completely overshadowed. But it does take a bit of a beating.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Jake Gyllenhaal as Dastan; Gemma Arterton as Tamina; Ben Kingsley as Nizam; Alfred Molina as Sheikh Amar; Richard Coyle as Tus
May 28, 2010
September 14, 2010